Summary: Those missing stars, they haunt him sometimes. Written for 31_days, March 24, 2009: a vein of stars calling out my name. Post-series, spoilers and vague references. Hei-centric, a bit of Hei/Amber.

songs of sunken starlight starbrights

holding the stars like paintings we are

pull one down for me.

--l--

Hei only half-remembers their Messier numbers, nowadays.

It's not that he meant to forget. It's just that he doesn't remember. Eventually, their faces, their names, their significances, their lives – they all sort of fade with time, once you throw them together up in that starless black sky.

It's not like he forgot that he was the one who brought their stars down.

He can't.

--l--

The first one. You're always supposed to remember the first one.

It wasn't as though he hadn't killed before. On the streets, for the training, in South America. He doesn't remember that face any more, but he still remembers the cold sweat staining his hands red, something like a jolt to his heart.

The first contractor had been during the war. They hadn't existed before then, anyway. When the gates appeared…everything changed.

(Amber and Bai became contractors, a dull part of his mind thinks, rehashing the memories.)

In the span of a day, the rules of the battlefield changed, and there weren't even that many to begin with. Kill or be killed; protect your team if you can.

It added: forget the rules of reality that you've known all your life.

Physics had disappeared from under his feet as the man flung him through the air – it had to have been because of him, with that glimmer in his eye and the flex of power in his fingers.

The surprise had almost been Hei's undoing. Reflex alone saved him, fastened his wires around a nearby tree trunk – and the contractor's neck.

Behind him, a shooting star sunk to the horizon.

After the next five kills and the next five stars, Hei started to see why.

--l--

"You're too nice for this, onii-chan," Bai had whispered to him, one of those first nights in South America. When his fingers still caught on his wires and he hadn't quite made a name for himself yet.

Hei had looked down from the stars, into her worried eyes.

"No, I'm not."

That was that.

--l--

The first time he used his powers as a Contractor to kill someone.

It was a painful, dark-as-death revelation, when he'd figured out he had his ability. Bai's ability.

(Genetics? Were they both predisposed to the disposition of a Contractor? Did he simply awaken to it later?

You know the truth, you know it, you know

No – she's gone and I have to find her –

But maybe –

No.)

He'd left South America, was fleeing through Europe. Looking for traces, searching for signs.

Once, to feel what it was like, he let the electricity course through his fingers. And then quickly remembered – Bai's remuneration was to fall into a heavy sleep.

Before a second passed, somehow, he knew: he had none. Had no cost to pay.

(Not the conventional kind.)

That knowledge, full of things he didn't want to know, ran cold down his spine.

Next to that feeling, the first kill via electrocution, whoever it was – it's one he doesn't remember.

--l--

VI-952.

Sometimes he forgets the exact number. It doesn't even matter any more, anyway. That man had sought death, and gotten what he'd wanted.

Pride. Conceit. Vanity.

You're all I never want to be, he'd thought before his end.

But Hei still remembers him here and there, if only because of all that blood – and his broken mask.

--l--

Before Hell's Gate, he'd read somewhere, stars were incandescent balls of gas. Mostly hydrogen and helium, though the most massive stars fused together heavier elements, over and over until they could gain no more energy from the nuclear reactions and could no longer hold themselves up.

Then they'd explode, in gigantic supernovas that created what even the largest stars in their entire lifetimes could not.

Without those stars, carbon, oxygen, precious metals – none of them would have existed. Life on Earth would have been nonexistent.

He finds it ironic that once upon a time, stars gave rise to life and living.

--l--

The first kill for the Syndicate. A test, of sorts.

It's not just a battle royale like the war. Can you pull off the precise missions we require?

He'd been sent to assassinate a spy. She was working in one of the European embassies; he just had to find her, kill her, and make her disappear. Simple enough.

She'd looked up at him with these…eyes. Filled with horror, fear. An innocent's eyes.

He hesitated for a split second.

She followed it up with a lightning-fast blow aimed at his neck; his reflexes took care of it.

Never trust a Contractor, he thought, standing over her dead body. Never.

(and you're just one of them.)

--l--

He's running, running, but it doesn't change a thing. The swamps of South America still turn into rotting vegetation under his feet; clear rivers into dark red streams.

He thought he escaped from this nightmare at the war's end. Why?

In the trees, they're watching him. The countless lives he took over the years, he knows. He can feel it.

"The Black Reaper, huh," one of the faceless says. "Even that won't save you from death."

Malicious smiles. "How about it? Do you fear dying?"

Suddenly, a wire around his neck.

And then – cold sheets, emerging daylight.

He's breathing. It's fine.

Contractors don't dream is the first thought that pops into mind.

He doesn't go down that path, and lies there until the chiaroscuro fades to dawn, when he'll get up and pull more stars down from the black.

And where they'll fall, it's ten shades darker than night. Doesn't he know.

The faceless did.

--l--

UB-001.

She might've taken a part of him with her, in the end.

--l--

Amber was the very first contractor. When the gate appeared, it simply happened; one of those coincidences that would affect them forever.

She was more or less a member of his team, but they hadn't interacted much until after she became what she did.

Hadn't fallen in love with her until afterwards.

That happened somewhere between the battlefield and gazing at the sky's new stars, somewhere between her supposed lack of emotion and her obvious humanity.

"Even if it's just the stress of fighting," she'd whispered. "Even if they're emotions I don't have."

"I know," he'd always say back.

("I feel," he'd never tried to explain.)

Then he'd twine his fingers through her hair and suddenly, wars going and stars falling wouldn't mean so much any more.

--l--

Even if it's just playacting at love.

The scars – they're real enough.

--l--

He was carrying Bai back from the battlefields again.

"You're always so nice, onii-chan," she'd murmured, and it made him feel so cold.

I'm not, he wouldn't say. Wanted to; remembered his fingers around his own sister's neck.

"I might be a Contractor, but…am I…completely like them? Their…emotions…" she managed, before falling sound asleep.

Now that Hei is one of them too – oh, he might be different, but the crucial similarity is there – he can't help but wonder, all the time.

--l--

He hadn't killed Amber. He wasn't responsible for Evening Primrose, didn't tell her to take the path that she did.

He might as well have been the one, though. Even if he'd never give up his ideals for hers, there's still something he'll always regret, about her. Things he should have said. Things they should have done. Wars that shouldn't have been. Decisions that shouldn't have been made.

Amber, and Bai, and Heaven's Gate.

In his mind, it's all the same.

--l--

One night, walking from somewhere to nowhere, Yin had suddenly pointed at something up in the night sky.

"BK-201."

"What?" he asked.

"Your star," she simply said.

It was a nice night. Not too chilly, not too humid. The stars looked closer to real, even.

He scanned the sky for the other stars he knew, and almost laughed at himself. If he knew them, why would they still be up there? Every Contractor he'd known or been involved with was now dead.

And Yin was a Doll. Dolls had no stars.

Hei said nothing in reply, and they kept on walking. He thought she understood.

--l--

The vision that Amber showed him at the end. All the Contractors he'd interacted with, and some of the humans. All the ones who died. The ones whom he killed.

They had been so nice about it. About everything.

Isn't that what a man with a conscience dreams of?

This isn't you. I don't want you to try so hard.

So you're not quite like the other Contractors, and you're not quite like us humans. Why does it matter?

(I don't blame you, for what happened. I don't.)

But for a moment, he lets himself dream.

Even if Contractors don't.

--l--

BK-201.

It's not missing. It's still up there, shining.

It shouldn't be, and he doesn't want to understand why.

--l--

Bai was always the center of his life. Ever since it was just the two of them, he'd more than understood the responsibility set on his shoulders.

Though he was powerful, possibly the better fighter in his own right, Bai had been the legendary killer. The one who left tens of bodies in her wake every time.

At first when she slept, he liked to think he was watching over her, keeping her safe.

Then the war wore on for years, the death toll rising to statistics that even the fighters couldn't comprehend any more. And as the fields of bodies only sealed her reputation, it only served to torment him more.

Just this – his hand around her neck, this one broken windpipe – could avert thousands of deaths. Just this one life.

Just her life.

She would stir under his touch, and his hand would quickly fall away, as though burned.

Every time, he let his apologies fall on sleep-deafened ears.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry –

Every time, she slept like the innocent, perfectly unaware.

--l--

The first time he thought he wouldn't make it.

Five of them and one of him; as his rational mind thought, what were his odds? What could he do?

Five minutes later, five stars had downed themselves one by one by one.

Yet, he thought on the long walk home, those five hadn't done a single thing to dent the stellar population. Hundreds and thousands more shone wherever they stood, and no one would care for five stars as dull as theirs.

It made him feel bitter, and it made him feel relieved.

--l--

Towards the end, he became so afraid of himself at times. What was he, to consider such a choice? His sister for countless nameless faces – those who'd be killed at some other's hand anyway, in this time and place. What was he.

(because as much as you love her, you love humanity, too. in a way, you love each and every single fool who bites the bullet because of you.

strange, isn't it.)

Then she disappears, then Amber disappears, then Heaven's Gate disappears. And their stars – all their stars – are still shining.

No. That wasn't how it was supposed to be.

Give me my sister back. Give Bai back.

The stars yielded no answer; the truth, they had no voice to say.

--l--

When Amber tells him everything, Hei doesn't want to believe. The reason why the star was now his –

No, she's right. He's always known. Just couldn't see it.

But this time – with Amber's star on the cusp of dying and Bai's what it is, this time, he knows what he has to do. Knows what he can't and won't.

"I'm sorry," he tells them, maybe doesn't say. And hopes they understand.

A life for a thousand was a sentiment so foolish. One thousand lives for several million – it's all the same.

He'll find his own way.

Goodbye, he tells them, feeling its imminent arrival, feeling the tears in their smiles. Goodbye.

--l--

Hei looks up at the night sky more often than not. It means so many things – childhood pastimes, interludes during the war, evidence of the others like him out there, somewhere.

(Reminders of the price he's paid.)

But the stars shift rapidly, with so many appearing and disappearing on a regular basis. Like a chronicle of human lives – a constant, rapid flow of points in light.

So rapid, BK-201 is the only one he'll always know.

The only one.


Yay for rushing things. Though, I only gave myself a day and a bit to write this, so…I uh, haha. 8D

Lyrics are from "Radiance" by Greenwheel; beta job by Rae, who thankfully stopped me from posting the thing before it was ready.

Oh, and I hate titles. That's all.